Much of early-modern history, up until the early 20th century, was characterized by empire—not just or even particularly the colonial projects of Britain and Spain, but contiguous empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary, China and the Ottomans. These latter were multi-ethnic and—using modern sensibilities—in some ways multinational edifices. They all came to an end around the time of the First World War: China and Russia morphed into republics and largely kept their territories; the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were replaced by a welter of new countries.
Fatima Bhutto’s latest, powerful novel, The Runaways, highlights the whys and wherefores that drive young people to join such terrorist organizations as the Islamic State. Anita Rose and Monty live in Pakistan and Sunny resides in England, despondent, living with anxieties about their identity and their place in this world. When a propagandist radicalized narrative presents itself as an answer, they latch onto it in a desperate attempt to fulfill what they feel are their destinies.
There’s a rather ungrammatical saying which goes “sometimes I eats to live, but mostly I lives to eat.” That’s why we have cookery books; we love to eat and we love the things that go along with eating, namely social interaction and sheer sensual pleasure.
History by way of “things” has itself become a “thing”. Archaeologists, of course, always did history this way. But they would focus on, usually, assemblages of objects, rather individual pieces. While perhaps not the first—nothing is ever the first—the BBC and the British Museum’s A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor popularized the concept.
This pioneering postcolonial work, originally published in 1966, was the first breakthrough Moroccan novel to be written in native Moroccan Arabic, rather than in French. Written after the country gained independence, the story follows the trajectory of two generations of al-Tihamis — a well-to-do family residing in Fez’s ancient medina — whose members characterize distinctive aspects of Moroccan society, and whose lives reflect the profound social changes taking place during the period.
A few years ago, Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim edited a much-needed and generous selection of Evliya Çelebi’s Seyhatname or Book of Travels. Evliya (1611-1682) spent the better part of forty years traveling around the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia Minor; he’s perhaps the best-known of all Ottoman explorers and travelers, which is not to say a great deal, because non-European travel-writers are still sadly under-represented in English translation.
Behind the somewhat unprepossessing title, The Watermelon Boys is the story of several several interlocking destinies playing out in what is now Iraq during and immediately after World War I.